There’s an increasing body of evidence to suggest that if we are *vitamin D deficient we have a greater chance of catching several infectious diseases, and we’re likely to suffer worse symptoms if we do get them. It’s not too difficult to keep your vitamin D levels up in the summer if you can get plenty of your skin surface area out into the sunshine for just 10 minutes (if you are fair skinned) and 30 minutes (if you have dark skin), but in the winter you’ll need longer because not only is sunlight weaker and scarcer but you probably don’t want to be strolling around the park in your shorts and sleeveless top when the temperature is in single figures. With Covid 19 restrictions on travel even those of you who could afford to probably can’t fly off to warmer climes to escape the northern European winter, so we’re all going to need to boost our vitamin D intake by adjusting our diet.
I went out for a walk/run this morning, and there was a little feeble sunshine between the clouds, but probably not enough to boost the vitamin D levels even of this pale pink human, so I came home and made scrambled eggs with chopped smoked salmon (2 eggs, 2 slices of salmon). The kosher (Manchester Beth Din) smoked salmon from Steve Hatt is my absolute favourite; tasty and not too salty. Egg yolks and salmon (as well as other oily fish) are both good sources of Vit D and considerably cheaper than a flight to the Caribbean.
The best natural source of vitamin D for you vegans is probably mushrooms, but they need to have been grown in sunlight, not indoors.
Small edit to this post: I ended my eating day by adding Vitamin D boosting mushrooms to the Stir Fry Recipe which will also support my immune system by adding variety to my Elder Microbiome. You’re welcome.
*Nerds who want some of the science on this might want to start with The Lancet review of Vitamin D and Covid research Volume 8, ISSUE 7 July 01, 2020 and Tim Spector’s book, Spoonfed.
Here’s another one that’s good for your gut microbiome.
Ingredients for 1 very hungry person or 2 normal humans:
1 large tuna steak
Juice of 1//2 lemon
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
What to do, roughly speaking
Pop the tuna steak in the freezer for an hour. This will make it easier to cut.
Cut into slices about 2cm thick
Place on a plate onto which you have squeezed lemon juice and a couple of teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds. Don’t overdo the sesame seeds as the flavour is very strong and can overpower the tuna if you’re not careful. Leave for a few minutes then turn the fish over to coat the other side in lemon and sesame.
Make sure the tuna is completely de-frosted.
Heat the mixed olive and toasted sesame oil in a frying pan
Gently place the tuna slices in there. Sprinkle on the soy sauce and after 2 minutes, carefully turn the fish pieces over
Cook for another minute (a little more if you prefer it cooked through, but I think it’s much tastier if still raw in the middle).
Serve on a sheet of seaweed with a dollop of wasabi and a little extra soy sauce to taste.
I added green beans – boiled for 5 minutes and then drained and tossed in oil and garlic….
I received a few questions after the microbiome piece about what constitutes “fermented foods”. In short, fermented foods have been partially broken down by micro-organisms such as yeast and bacteria. They tend to be tasty and aromatic. One of the most familiar fermented foods is miso, and instant miso soup is is one of the few instant, “just add water” products that I buy. (Kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, beer, cider and, luckily for me, wine are also fermented.)
Today’s recipe is a fine example of a microbiome friendly meal which is also vegetarian. (Vegan if you go for vegan noodles instead of egg noodles). And to make it even better you can serve it with a gut-microbiome-diversity-encouraging glass of white wine.Ingredients for 2:
2 handfuls green beans (about 20 beans).
6 broccoli stems
1/2 onion – sliced
1 red pepper – seeded and sliced
2 cloves garlic – chopped finely
Thumb-sized piece of ginger root – chopped finely
1 small red chilli – chopped finely
2 nests of fine egg noodles
1 sachet instant dark miso soup (I used an organic brand with added tofu and ginger)
Soy sauce to taste
1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
What to do, roughly speaking:
Wash and trim the beans and broccoli and cook them for about 6 minutes in 500 ml water. Remove the veg from the water with a slotted spoon, set aside and keep the veg water to cook the noodles and miso soup (this adds a little more flavour to the broth).
In a frying pan, heat the combined olive and sesame oil. Fry the onions and sliced red pepper for a few minutes until the onions begin to brown. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli. Turn the heat down a bit and fry for 2 or 3 minutes more. Add a splash of soy sauce and fry for another minute. Add the cooked beans and broccoli. Stir fry this mix for about 5 minutes until it’s all heated through.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles in the vegetable water for 4 or 5 minutes (according to the instructions on the packet) and for the last minute add the miso soup. Stir well
To serve: place the stir fry veg into the bowl you’re eating from, lift the noodles out of the broth with a pasta serving spoon (see pic) and then pour the miso soup over everything.
8 jumbo prawns – heads, eggs and black threads removed.
1 red pepper – seeds removed and sliced
medium onion – sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic – chopped very finely
1 small red chilli – chopped finely
1 tbsp olive oil
a little toasted sesame oil
1 shot tequila
1 tbsp soy sauce
What to do:
Heat the mixed olive and sesame oil in a frying pan until hot but not smoking
Add the onions and fry for 3 or 4 minutes,
Add the garlic, place a lid on the pan, turn down the heat and cook for another few minutes, stirring from time to time, until the onions and garlic are soft
Turn up the heat again, add the sliced pepper and cook for another couple of minutes
Then add the jumbo prawns fry hot for a few minutes, add the tequila shot, then turn down the heat, cover and cook stirring occasionally until the prawn shells have turned completely pink and slightly crispy.
Serve with rice and add a little soy or chilli sauce to taste.
You can peel the prawns to eat them if you want, but the shells are edible and tasty, and apparently good for lowering cholesterol.
The posts on my food blog and rant blog are the same this week, because I’m ranting about the relationship between diet and disease.
Another type of diversity conversation. And a call to action.
Alongside the wonderful Paul Loper, I’ll be heading back this time next year to the beautiful Mexican Pacific coast as guest faculty at the Modern Elder Academy. I’m looking forward to learning more than I teach (as always) and in particular to enjoying the work of the most important faculty member at MEA, the person whose contribution has the potential to make the greatest difference in the lives of those attending…yes, I’m talking about this guy: Tony Peralta. Chef.
But for now, I’m still in London Covid world, with stern warnings everywhere I turn that elders like me are more at risk than younger people of serious illness and even death if we become infected by the virus. The message is one designed to evoke passivity and fear; I’m being told what to avoid and what not to do.
It seems to me to be dangerously superficial as well as offensively ageist to throw all elders into the same box. I’m not alone. A paper in the international journal of the British Geriatrics Society states:
The public discourse during COVID-19 misrepresents and devalues older adults.
The ageist attitudes circulating during COVID-19 make some people think that the pandemic is an older person problem. (Ageist attitudes include the belief that ill health is inevitable, intervention ineffective, and improved outcomes inherently not valuable to society).
The same paper goes on to say that it doesn’t have to be this way; that there is substantial untapped potential to modify the relationship between chronological age and health, and to relieve the so-called burden of ageing on individuals, families and society.
One of the fundamental reasons why some older people can be badly affected by Covid is a lack of diversity in the gut microbiome. In case you didn’t know, your microbiome is made up of more bacteria and fungi than you have cells, and diversity in its composition protects us from disease, affects our metabolism and weight, our inflammatory response, cognition, appetite, mood….
Over the age of 40, the diversity of these bacteria in our gut tends to decline. The reasons for this are many and include diet (many people slide into habitual and unhealthy eating patterns), hormone levels, diabetes, use of antibiotics, painkillers, antidepressants, and drugs such as statins which are used to manage blood lipids.
At a time when we are being advised to wash our hands and stay away from other people, the risk of reducing the diversity of our gut bacteria is even greater – cutting down on opportunities for the virus to enter our system also means that we’re preventing bacteria getting in, so we need more than ever to protect and boost the ones already in there. In this necessarily disinfected environment, we need to do even more to sustain the diversity of our microbiome and thus protect ourselves from those dangerous inflammatory infections caused by Covid.
This is where our hero, Tony, comes in. One way to slow the age-related decline in microbiome diversity is by changing our eating habits to something more like a Mediterranean (or what I tend to think of as a Pacific Mexican) diet of the type served up by Tony and his team – plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables, grains, fresh fish, some fermented foods (and, yes, the occasional glass of excellent Baja California wine). It helps also to snack less, taking long pauses between meals to give your gut a break. Exercise has also been shown to support microbiome diversity.
To learn more about this, Prof. Tim Spector is definitely worth a follow, and this article of his on how to boost your gut microbiome is very helpful. I’m looking forward to his upcoming book, Spoonfed, on diet myths which I’ll feature here when it comes out in a couple of months time.
I’d love us to turn Covid19 from a reason to hide away into a reason to act. To take this opportunity to do 2 things:
as individuals, rather than allow ourselves to be wholly dominated by the vulnerability narrative, take action and start to re-build the diversity of our microbiome so that we improve our resistance. In short, “Cook like Tony.”
as a movement, start to draw attention to the fact that the medicine business and pharmaceutical trials have historically and shamefully under-represented older people, black people and women. A paper by multiple academics from London, Shanghai and Mexico written in 2014 decried the under-representation of older people in research and healthcare thus, “effective (healthcare) intervention in older people is complicated by ageism, complex multimorbidity, and poor access to age-appropriate care…older people tend to be excluded from clinical trials that would generate specific evidence to inform their treatment, even for drugs that are mainly prescribed in older age.”
The burden of disease in older people and implications for health policy and practice Martin J Prince, Fan Wu, Yanfei Guo, Luis M Gutierrez Robledo, Martin O’Donnell, Richard Sullivan, Salim Yusuf
Missing Microbes. How the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues. Martin J. Blaser.
It can be hard to find hot smoked salmon fillet, unless of course you are lucky enough to have a proper fishmonger like Steve Hatt in the neighbourhood. Usually when I buy this I serve it cold with salad, or even mix it with smoked haddock for a slightly different take on kedgeree. Last week, for some reason, I decided to make hot smoked salmon fishcakes. Never made fishcakes from scratch in my life before… so glad I tried it!
Ingredients for 2 people (4 fishcakes):
1 hot smoked salmon fillet – skin removed, broken up into small pieces
1/2 cup chopped coriander leaf
1/2 medium onion, chopped very finely
1 garlic clove, chopped very finely
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp sumac
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
pinch of salt (not too much, hot smoked salmon is salty)
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 small or 2 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed with butter.
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup breadcrumbs.
Olive oil to fry the fishcakes
What to do, roughly speaking.
In a bowl, mix the salmon, coriander, onion, garlic, oregano, sumac, black pepper, salt, lemon zest and lemon juice.
Add the mashed potato, mix it up with a fork, then divide it into 4.
Shape into….well….fishcake shapes!!
In a separate shallow bowl beat the eggs and add the breadcrumbs.
Pick up each fishcake carefully and coat each side with the eggy breadcrumbs.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan; enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.
When it’s hot but not smoking place the fishcakes in there. Gently, now..
Cook for about 3 minutes on one side, turn them over carefully with a fish slice and cook for 3 to 4 minutes on the other side
Serve with green veg (beans and tenderstem broccoli are both good at the moment) and a nice drop of Picpoul.
I discovered Jamie Oliver’s spicy squash recipe in his first book, The Naked Chef, back in 1999. Along with Lord Krishna’s Cuisine (see last week’s recipe), it’s one of my more battered (geddit?!) cookery books. I have Jamie to thank for getting my then 8-year-old son interested in cooking some 20 years ago! This recipe is unashamedly stolen from Jamie Oliver. I’ve often made his spicy squash risotto recipe, but never thought of serving spaghetti with squash until today. I really was not at all sure that this would work, but IMHO it is absolutely delicious!
When I make risotto with squash, there is always a great deal of cheese, butter and mascarpone involved, but for this I went totally dairy free.
Ingredients for 4 people:
1 medium butternut squash
seeds from the squash
2 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp fennel seed
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
small red chili, chopped very finely
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
400 gm spaghetti (That’s for hungry people. 300 is enough if you’re not that hungry, or you’re serving something else as well).
What to do, roughly speaking.
Pre-heat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas mark 6
Cut the squash in half lengthways
Scoop the seeds out of the centre of the squash, discard any stringy flesh that is sticking to them.
Cut each half of the squash into 4, again, lengthways. Now you have 8 strips of squash.
Using a pestle and mortar, smash up the coriander, fennel, salt, black peppercorns, oregano, garlic and chili.
Tip this mix into a roasting tray, add 2 tbsp olive oil and mix it around.
Place the squash slices in the roasting tray and smear the oil/herb/spice mix over both sides.
Tip the seeds into a pile on one side of the tray.
Place the squash and seeds in the oven for 30 minutes, turn off the heat and leave for another 10 minutes while you cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling water.
Drain the spaghetti and put it on your plates
Chop the squash slices into pieces about 2 cm thick.
Spoon the squash slices over the spaghetti and then sprinkle the seeds over the top of that.
Oh, the small joys of relaxing lockdown! I drove out to Essex last weekend to visit the fab Lolli of Thaxted Yoga and bought some veg from the pop-up stall in her local pub car park, including an aubergine (US friends, that’s an eggplant to you!). We had a bit of a laugh about aubergine being one of those vegetables that seems like a good idea at the time, then you keep it in the fridge until it’s wrinkled and squishy and finally throw it away!!
Not for me, though. I love the way that aubergine soaks up the flavours of whatever I cook it with, yet keeps its own textural personality; a bit squeaky and definitely squishy.
I cooked it this evening using a recipe largely stolen from one of my favourite cooks; the late, great Yamuna Devi, author of “Lord Krishna’s Cuisine – The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking”. (You can see how much I love it from the state of my copy!)
I had some scotch bonnet peppers in the fridge which I would normally not use when cooking Indian food, but since they were all I had, I used a piece of one and must confess that I rather overdid it. Hence my recommendation to use a little finely chopped green chili instead.
1 medium aubergine chopped into cubes and marinated for an hour or so in a paste made from:
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
11/2 teaspoons garam masala
a pinch of salt
about 50 ml water
200 g red split lentils
a chunk of ginger about the size of a small person’s thumb
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped green chilis
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
a small shake of asafetida powder (can do without this if you don’t have it or don’t like it)
For the finishing touches:
1 teaspoon ground coriander
a squeeze of lemon juice
a handful of chopped coriander leaf.
What to do:
While the aubergine is soaking up those flavours, begin cooking the lentils. First, place the dry lentils in the bottom of a large saucepan (big enough to take all your ingredients) and roast them on a low heat. Keep them moving and enjoy the smell. Once they have started to brown, rinse them with cold water in a sieve and return them to the pan. Add enough water to cover them – probably about 750 ml. Bring to the boil, lower the heat, place a tight lid on the pan, turn down the heat and cook for about 20 minutes. Keep topping up the water if the lentils have soaked it all up.
While the lentils are boiling, fry the aubergine. Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a frying pan, add the cumin seeds and chopped chilis and fry until the cumin seeds begin to turn brown. Add the asafetida powder (if you’re using it) for a minute, and then add the marinated aubergine – it soaks up a lot of oil, so use plenty, and add a bit more if things begin to dry out. Fry the aubergine pieces in the spice mix, moving them around all the time, for about 7 minutes.
Once the lentils have cooked for 25-30 minutes, add the fried aubergine to the saucepan. Rinse out the frying pan with a little hot water and add that to the lentils and aubergine mix so that you don’t lose any of the spicy flavours.
Keep simmering the lentils and aubergine on a low heat for another 20 minutes. Just before it’s ready to serve add the teaspoon of ground coriander, a squeeze of lemon and chopped coriander leaf. (Cilantro to you, US friends!). Taste the stew and add a little more salt at this stage if you think it needs it.
3 people to thank for today’s recipe; Barbara Vance for her observations on cooking for one, and Rick and Su (once again!) for the delicious, ridiculously tall asparagus from their garden.
I love cooking alone. Even when I’m cooking for 8 or 10 (which is not an uncommon thing for me to do in normal times) I love to do as much of the prep as I can before they arrive. Sometimes I play music, but it has to be instrumental, words distract me. Preparing and cooking food for me is like a meditation. I like to be really focused on my senses. The stronger the smell of something, the tastier it’s likely to be. I like to mix up, contrast and complement the colours. Most of all, though, I love to feel the range of textures as my knife cuts through… every carrot, every potato has a different density and that affects how I chop it. Harder, more solid vegetables take longer to cook so need to be in smaller pieces than the slightly softer ones. Even vegetables from the same plot and batch can vary.
The asparagus from Rick and Su’s garden was a fine example of this. It wasn’t just about the thickness of the stems – in fact some of the skinny ones were quite tough and the thick ones surprisingly soft. I decided to make this an exclusively asparagus risotto (normally I would fry up some celery with the onion and garlic, and use vegetable stock to cook the rice) so chopped the stems into 3 batches. After removing and discarding the earthy, really tough base (only a couple of cm) I chopped the woody bottom part into very small slices, the middle into approx 2cm chunks and left the tips quite long. Each stem was different, some with more of the tough stalk and some with a higher proportion of tender tip. This is where the joy comes in for me. Focusing on nothing but the texture of asparagus stems for several minutes.
Yes, I know, I’m weird. But harmless.
Here are the 3 batches:
Add the thinly chopped, tougher pieces in step 1, the medium bits in step 2 and the tips in step 3.
1 medium onion
About 9 or 10 asparagus spears (more if you’re using shorter shop-bought asparagus)
2 garlic cloves
500 ml hot water (or vegetable stock if you want more than the taste of asparagus)
200 g (1 cup) risotto rice
a glass of white wine
50 g grana padano or parmesan cheese. Grana padano is less salty and a little creamier.
1 dessertspoon mascarpone cheese
salt and pepper
What to do. …roughly speaking
Chop the onion, garlic and the woody bottom part of the asparagus stems very finely.
Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan until smoking, and add the chopped veg. Stir it all around quickly for a few seconds and then turn down the heat, put a lid on the pan and sweat the veg for about 6-8 minutes. If you taste a tiny piece of the asparagus at this point you will notice how it has softened and picked up the garlic and onion flavour, but still maintained its own character.
Take off the lid, turn up the heat a bit and add the rice. Keep stirring. Add the wine. Keep stirring. When the rice has absorbed the wine, add the second batch of asparagus (the middle of the stems) and stir it around.
Start to add the water – a little at a time. Wait until the rice has absorbed the liquid before you add any more. Taste the rice from time to time to see how you’re doing. (I’m always fascinated by the way that flavour as well as texture changes during the cooking process). When the rice is almost cooked (after about 20 minutes) you’re ready for…
Add the tender ends of the asparagus and salt and pepper. Keep cooking until the rice and tender tips are cooked (when the rice is no longer gritty in the middle, its done).This will probably be approximately 5 more minutes.
Turn off the heat and add the parmesan and mascarpone – mix it all around thoroughly.
Taste it and add a little more salt and pepper if you like.
This is enough for 2 large portions or 3 small ones, but back to Barbara’s point about cooking for one… I must confess that most of the time I just eat way too much, but the options for the rest of it are:
a) Eat 1/3, put the other 2 portions into freezer bags. Risotto freezes surprisingly well but make sure that you de-frost it really thoroughly, and then I like to re-heat it in a shallow dish covered in foil in a low oven for about 20 minutes. Of course, you can use a microwave or place it in a pan on the hob on a low heat with a little more white wine to stop it from sticking. If you re-heat it this way, make sure you keep it moving all the time.
b) Call a neighbour and ask if they’d like some.
Unfortunately, you probably can’t donate it to your local food bank as most of them only take unopened, packaged food for security reasons.
Life is good: I have friends who grow asparagus in their garden. Not just any asparagus, the t-a-l-l-e-s-t asparagus I have ever seen. These in the photo are as long as my forearm. Thank you, Su and Rick!
Life is good: I live around the corner from Steve Hatt the fishmonger in North London.
Life is good : I’ve been spending so little money during lockdown that I didn’t think twice about buying myself 6, yes SIX tiger prawns this morning.
The tiger prawn recipe is already on the blog from a couple of years ago. You can find it here.
For the asparagus, I simply chopped the woody end off the stem, boiled it for 6 minutes, drained it, melted a little butter over it.
Next up, asparagus risotto recipe. Yes, they gave me LOADS!! Watch this space.
Step 1. Butterfly your prawns
Step 2. Marinate in lime juice and vanilla essence
Step 3. Fry some garlic and chilli flakes in oil, then add the prawns flesh side down.
Step 4. Gently turn them over and fry the shell side til it’s nice and crunchy